In a previous article, we explored some challenges that often surface when engaging in a tough conversation with an older adult. Those challenges include: autonomy, independence, and even dignity. Here we examine yet another challenge: an older adult’s legacy. Not financially, but how others remember them after they have passed.
- George was nearing his 100th birthday. Having spent his 99th birthday with his family, he decided only his two children and their spouses should join him for his 100th. Having so many relatives visit at one time, he said, was exhausting. Since he lived some distance from his children, grandchildren and other relatives, he wished his family members would visit him throughout the year instead of all at once. But his family members loved these occasions that also provided an opportunity for a reunion.
Failing to convince him otherwise, his adult children acquiesced to a modest celebration. It was pleasant enough, but everyone (including George) later agreed it would have been special with his entire family there. His grandchildren, nieces, nephews and a few remaining cousins never saw him again. George died (alone) a year later, shortly after his 101st birthday.
- Cindy was dying of lung cancer as her 70th birthday approached. Having refused chemo and radiation therapy, she wished to live out her remaining months without the discomfort that often accompanies these treatments. Cindy instructed her daughter not to invite anyone to her 70th. Knowing her mother was close to death, her daughter risked her mother’s ire by inviting close friends to quietly celebrate Cindy’s life. Each guest had 5 minutes alone with Cindy who was getting frailer by the hour.
We shared with her what was special in our relationship. These moments were memorable for us, and I hope for Cindy as well. From her occasional smiles we could tell she valued having some time with each of us.
Had George been asked “Is this how you want to be remembered?” he might have agreed to observe his centenary with his family. Instead our remembrance of him is marked by there being no celebration of his 100th. While Cindy’s daughter could not ask her the “legacy question,” she grasped that her mother’s friends would cherish their last few minutes with her.
The “legacy question” may not resolve a dispute, but it might encourage older adults to re-consider issues that impact how others will remember them.
Beyond Dispute Associates
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